avocado for health

For Your Overall Health, Consider the Mighty Avocado

Study after study has shown that the best way to stay healthy is to eat a plant-based diet. That doesn’t necessarily mean strictly vegetarian. Consider a meal plan focused on natural foods, especially plants, and minimal meat, processed foods, and dairy products.

One fruit that our concierge primary care doctors would like to suggest you incorporate into your diet is the avocado. (And yes it is technically a fruit, even though people often think of it as a vegetable.) That’s because there’s a wealth of health-giving nutrients packed into one avocado. From heart health to improved digestion to better eyesight, avocados have long had a reputation as a powerhouse superfood.

Nutrient package

In addition to being delicious, an avocado packs a rich store of vitamins and minerals good for your health, including:

  • vitamin C
  • vitamin E
  • potassium
  • niacin
  • vitamin K
  • riboflavin
  • folate
  • vitamin B6
  • pantothenic acid
  • magnesium
  • lutein
  • zeaxanthin
  • beta-carotene

Trace minerals also found in the fruit include manganese, thiamine, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and vitamin A.

Why nutritionists love it

While relatively high in calories (about 250 or more, depending on their size), avocados also contain beneficial fiber, monounsaturated fatty acids, and powerful antioxidants.

A great deal of research has shown the benefits of the nutrients contained in avocados and other fresh fruits and vegetables. They can help improve heart health, lower the risk of diabetes, fight the growth of cancer cells, and even aid in weight loss. The secret? Their healthy fats and high fiber content. These fats also boost the effectiveness of the other fat-soluble vitamins it contains, such as A, D, E, and K.

Specific to avocados, however, is their especially high content of beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These nutrients have been shown to protect vision and promote a more youthful complexion.

Another benefit of avocados is their high folate content, a vitamin which is necessary for pregnant women. It may help reduce the risk of depression, and has even been shown to help lower the risk of dementia.

Finally, avocados contain even more potassium than bananas, which helps lower blood pressure.

Busting belly fat

And now a new study has found even more health benefits from the avocado.

The dangers of belly fat have been well documented. Let’s examine a 2015 study of more than 15,000 people over 14 years. It found normal-weight men with big bellies were 35 percent more likely to die than those without the extra abdominal fat.

Another study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) found that increasing stomach fat is associated with newly identified and worsening heart disease risk factors.

“These adverse changes in cardiovascular risk were evident over a relatively short period of time and persisted even after accounting for changes in body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, two commonly used methods to estimate whether someone is a healthy weight or not,” the researchers wrote.

They also reported that “individuals with greater increases in fat inside the abdominal cavity showed substantial increases in metabolic risk factors, including high blood sugar, high triglycerides, and low HDL, or good, cholesterol.”

The problem isn’t the subcutaneous (just below the skin) fat you can grasp with your hand. It’s the visceral fat that lies deep within the belly and surrounds the internal organs. Even with weight loss, this more dangerous type of fat is notoriously hard to budge.

Avocados target bad fat

Now a study published this month in the Journal of Nutrition found that an avocado a day can help change the distribution of visceral belly fat, at least in women.

Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign were trying to determine whether avocado consumption could change the ratio of subcutaneous to visceral fat.

“The goal wasn’t weight loss,” Naiman Khan, an Illinois professor of kinesiology and community health, said in a statement. “We were interested in understanding what eating an avocado does to the way individuals store their body fat. 

“Individuals with a higher proportion of that deeper visceral fat tend to be at a higher risk of developing diabetes,” he explained. “So we were interested in determining whether the ratio of subcutaneous fat to visceral fat changed with avocado consumption.”

For 12 weeks the researchers followed 105 men and women who were classified as overweight or obese. They split participants into two groups and gave them one meal daily. They ate whatever they wanted for the other two meals. Each ate approximately the same number of calories with nearly identical ingredients. One group also received a fresh avocado along with their provided meal. 

At the end of the study, women who ate a daily avocado saw a noticeable reduction in visceral fat. The men who participated in the study had no perceptible change in their visceral fat. Neither men nor women showed a measurable improvement in glucose tolerance, a marker for how well the body processes sugar.

So if you’re looking for a quick way to boost your overall health, grab an avocado or two the next time you go shopping. 

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